Keyboard Amplifier Guide: How to Pick the Best Amp / PA Speakers?

Do you, as a Rockstar, beginner or hobbyist keyboard player, need external amplification?

While for some of you it may be an obvious decision to upgrade to an external speaker, and for others it may not seem much of a necessity, there are a few possibilities to consider when deciding if your keyboard requires an amp or not:

You might be interested in an external amplifier because constant practice with headphones tires your ears, and built-in keyboard speakers tend to be of low quality

You might start playing live at small venues that don’t offer a house PA system

You rehearse with a band and have to compete with high-wattage guitar amps and an inconsiderate drum player

Whatever the case, we have prepared a guide that will provide all the relevant information you need about external amplification.

External keyboard amplification

Nowadays you can find plenty of options that will fit any budget limitations. Developments in technology have made it possible for even the cheapest amps to retain the rich quality of sound that your kick-ass keyboard provides.

This article will aim to make it a breeze to decide what keyboard amplifier suits your needs, but there is one important thing to keep in mind.

While this article will provide you with an array of useful information and products, no amount of technical knowledge will substitute for physically testing and listening to the unit you wish to purchase.

If you already know all the basics and what kind of external amplification system you need, feel free to skip right to our recommendations of the best keyboard amps and PA speakers on the market.

Glossary: The Technical Side of Amplification

I know, I know. You want to rush out to your nearest music shop and just buy a keyboard amp, ignoring all the boring technical information that you’re about to read.

By all means, we can’t stop you from buying that amp – but we can tell you it’s going to be an ill-advised purchase if you don’t know your basics.

Voltage Levels Channels Stereo vs Mono SpeakersPeak vs. RMSWatts vs SPL

There are 3 main types of voltage signals that show up when looking at audio equipment. These all refer to a specific voltage range. The rule of thumb is to use the appropriate output voltage for each type of Input.

– Line Level: This is the most important level since it’s what most of your audio equipment will use.

Your keyboard is most likely operating at line level and keyboard amplifiers, PAs and studio monitors will generally have line level inputs. This means there’s no need for extra equipment to alter the voltage signal your keyboard sends to your monitor of choice.

audio signal levels

– Mic Level: This is the signal with the lowest voltage. As the name implies it is used by microphones.

Your keyboard amp or PA will probably offer a mic/line input which works for both signals so long as you flick the respective switch. Since it’s a lower level signal it often requires a pre-amp to bring the voltage to an appropriate level.

– Instrument Level: This level falls between line and mic levels and is mostly used by electric guitars and other types of analog instruments. Most keyboard amps or PAs don’t have instrument level inputs and extra equipment is needed to get the right voltage level.

Connecting an instrument or mic level signal (lower level) into a line level output will cause the volume and quality of the signal to be very low.

A channel is a passageway for an audio signal. There are various types of audio channel configurations. For the purpose of this article, we are only concerned with mono and stereo channel configurations.

Keyboard amp inputs outputs

Many PA systems and keyboard amps come with built-in mixers that offer one, two or even more input channels (usually mono or stereo) that you can connect your instruments and devices to.

The PA speaker/amp then mixes those audio signals together, amplifies them and pushes through the speaker to make sound.

Each channel usually offers separate controls for adjusting the audio level, EQ settings, and other parameters depending on the equipment.

A mono channel carries a single signal while stereo carries two. In this case the output has to correspond to the inputs.

Using stereo is more appropriate when you have a stereo speaker configuration (2 speakers) and the effect of such a configuration will be better appreciated if there’s physical separation between the speakers.

There are certain keyboard amps (e.g. Roland KC-220) that have two speakers, which means the output can be stereo (provided the source is also stereo, e.g. stereo piano samples).

While this is definitely an improvement over a single speaker (mono), it won’t make much of a noticeable difference because the speakers are still contained on the same unit.

Your keyboard will most likely have 2 mono outputs, which makes up a stereo configuration, (Labeled R and L for right and left).

If the final output on the chain is mono (a single speaker in a keyboard amp or PA) you should keep the entire signal chain in mono. That means using the L/mono output on your keyboard.

Using stereo when the final output is mono can cause phasing problems since the two channels will be summed into a single output channel.

The same L/mono output should be used when a mono configuration is the only option available. For example, if only one channel is functional because there are not enough input channels on your device, or other instruments are taking up the remaining channels.

stereo vs mono audio

The purpose of using a stereo configuration is to have distinct signals on each channel (left and right), to give a sense of perspective to our ears.

For example, a stereo configuration on some keyboard voices might reproduce the sounds in its intended sonic form (for example, lower notes a bit to the left of the sonic field and higher notes a bit to the right), or might have stereo effects like a ping pong delay.

For the purposes of practicing at home such a distinction may not be a big deal, but if you want to appreciate the sound of your keyboard in all its glory, a stereo setup will set you on your way.

They come in all shapes and sizes. The size of the speaker is directly responsible for the range of frequencies it can reproduce.

Most common PA speakers have full-range speakers, comprising a woofer or cone and a tweeter. This contrasts with amps, a lot of which only come with a single full-range cone.

The woofer or cone is responsible for low to mid range frequencies (~50 Hz to 800 Hz), and the tweeter or driver reproduces the higher frequencies (~1k Hz to 20k Hz).

It is a lot more efficient to have a 2-way system (a woofer and a driver for example) than having a single cone.

A single cone will be under a lot more duress when creating audio signals, preventing it from reaching very high volumes or reproducing every frequency band with the same fidelity.

This is why most PA systems are 2-way speakers and in a lot of cases bi-amplified – having one amp for the woofer and one amp for the driver.

When looking at the wattage of a system, be sure to pay attention to what the manufacturer is advertising.

Wattage is sometimes advertised using ‘peak’ measurements, which is the highest value it can technically reach (the ‘peak’) but not at a constant level, since that would damage the speaker.

In contrast with this, the RMS (Root Mean Square) is the maximum power a system can deliver at a constant level without causing any damage to its components.

For example, a 250-watt (RMS) system might have a 500-watt (peak) power and the manufacturer will advertise the 500 watts. This isn’t a problem as long as you are comparing all products using the same measurement.

In other words, if you are comparing two products make sure you look at RMS vs RMS, not Peak vs RMS.

Usually, wattage is the number advertised by most manufacturers to showcase how powerful the system is. This measurement gives an overall idea of how the amplifier compares to other products and is an easy to understand concept.

However, wattage shouldn’t be confused with loudness, which is measured in dB SPL (Decibels – Sound Pressure Level).

The loudness of a system is certainly related to the power, but wattage is not a sole indicator of loudness.

This can get incredibly technical – if you’re a budding physician you should definitely look into it – but for the rest of us, all you need to know is that you should observe the SPL measurements of monitoring systems to compare loudness among them.

Phew. The technical stuff is OVER. We can move on to the different types of equipment available for us talented keyboardists.

Amplifiers

guitar combo amp

A keyboard amplifier is the simplest solution if you are looking into external amplification. It will work well for home settings (practicing, recording) and small venues (local coffee shop or small church gigs).

There are plenty of brands, aesthetics, and sizes to choose from but the key factors to consider should be quality, functionality and budget.

It’s very important to make sure that you are buying a keyboard specific amp or a multi-purpose amp. These are designed to entirely reproduce the wide frequency range of a keyboard, unlike a guitar amp.

In conjunction with this, guitar amps often ‘color’ the sound they reproduce. This provided tonal alteration is responsible for crafting heard throughout music history – think ‘Sunshine of Your Love’.

While this suits guitar players, a keyboardist generally wants to avoid any tone alteration, preferring a clean signal coming out of their amplifier for most purposes.

In terms of power, you can find keyboard amplifiers that start at around 20-watts of power and models that go up to 400-watts. Just for reference, 20 watts of power is more than enough for home use, while anything above 100 watts would be overkill at home.

Overkill is a personality staple of being a musician, so this isn’t necessarily a negative! Your neighbors may disagree though.

audio intputs outputs

For personal use, one input is generally sufficient, but it’s always handy to have extra inputs for a microphone or MP3 player.

Nowadays there is an abundance of amplifier options that allow you to connect 3 to 4 instruments, provide additional Aux inputs for MP3 devices and even XLR inputs for microphones.

Both PAs and keyboard amplifiers tend to be built with strong materials since taking them on the road is part of their intended use. They tend to be made of either wood (hard plywood or solid wood), aluminum, plastic or a combination.

The materials used will definitely affect the sound but it’s not something to be concerned about. When making a choice use your ears and not the specs sheet or build materials.

Overall, a keyboard amplifier is the perfect choice if you want to play at home or small to medium events.

However, when choosing an amplifier (or any other piece of equipment) the best course of action is to try as many as you can, particularly in a store where you can connect a keyboard similar to the one you own into several amps to test each individually.

Even with very little experience you’ll be able to compare and identify which piece of equipment sounds the best to you. The amp that makes your keyboard’s sound satisfy your ears will keep you happy for a long time.

PA Systems

A PA system is a good all-round solution for keyboard monitoring. PA stands for Public Address and it is a system made up of various elements such as mixers, loudspeakers and amplifiers. This equipment is effective at increasing the loudness of a sound source, often substantially.

While this description might sound a bit dense and intimidating, it is easy to find great PA systems that are self-contained, meaning they include each hardware component (mixer, amp and speakers) in a single piece of equipment requiring minimal setup.


A Little About Each Part of a PA

Source:

MIDI keyboard

The source will be any instrument or device that produces a sound. A keyboard, microphone or MP3 player are common sound sources.

Mixer:

mixer instruments connected

The mixer will take the sounds coming from the source and put them into individual channels. This will allow you to blend, control and direct the sound coming from each channel into the amplifier.

There are external mixers that can range from 2 to 50 input channels, and there are also mixers that are built into speakers and have 1-4 channels.

Some powered mixers come with a built-in amplifier, eliminating the need for a separate amplifier.

Amplifier:

stero amplifier

The amplifier will receive the audio signals coming from the mixer and bring them up to a higher level.

While keyboard amps usually come in a lower range of power (you can find amps ranging from 20-400 watts), PA speakers tend to start at a very high wattage, since their intended use is to project sound to an audience, often over a longer distance.

Speakers:

speaker

Responsible for transforming electrical energy coming from the amp or mixer (or directly from the source!) into mechanical energy. The quality of sound the entire system emits will depend on the quality of the speakers.

Though they may seem designed for specific purposes, all of this information doesn’t mean that PA systems are exclusively for live performances.

They come in all sizes and price ranges which will guarantee that there’s an option for the home musician as well as the live player.

PA systems also tend to keep a very clean, unaltered signal, with less tonal alterations than an amp.


Active vs Passive PA System

PA speaker

You can find ‘active’ and ‘passive’ PA speakers. An active speaker is self-powered or ‘plug-and-play’. It has the amp and speaker built into one unit and in some cases even EQ and auxiliary connections.

A passive speaker, on the other hand, will require a connection into a power amplifier that provides power to the speaker.

As you can guess by that description, it is a lot simpler to set up an active speaker PA system than it is to set up a system with passive speakers.

There’s a lot of possibilities but you can start with one or two speakers and a mixer as an initial PA setup. Generally, speakers provide XLR/line connections on the back, which is sufficient for most basic needs.

Since active speakers have their own amplifier built in, they are considerably heavier than passive speakers.

All the features mentioned above make active speaker systems a great option for small events.

Passive speakers are usually found in medium to larger size venues.

Since they don’t include any built-in components, they are less susceptible to faults and very rarely require reparation. For this reason, they are often in fixed positions or even built into the structure of the venue.

It’s also very simple to expand a PA system if you have passive speakers. You can keep adding speakers as long as you have the required amplification for the number of speakers being used.

You’ll need to make sure that your speakers match the power rating (in watts) and impedance (in ohms) of your power amp (if you use a passive speaker setup) to ensure that you get the most out of the entire system in terms of sound quality.

Always make sure that your power amp can provide twice as many watts as your speaker requires. A 200-watt – 8-ohm amp will work well with 100-watt – 8-ohm speakers. This ensures that there’s plenty of power for the speakers to operate at an optimal level.


Mixing Options

For both active and passive speakers the number of channels available for playback will depend on the mixer. The output of your keyboard will most likely be stereo (2 channels), but your mixer may provide 4 or more input channels.

Active PA speaker built-in mixer

A typical 2-channel mixer built into an active PA speaker

If the mixer is built into the PA speaker (active system), you may only have one or two channels (line/XLR inputs) for your instruments/equipment, so keep that in mind.

For your keyboard, you only need two channels (if you plan to go stereo) or even one channel will suffice for mono signals.


So What Should I Target Out of Passive and Active PA Systems?

keyboard live performance

As everything in the world of musical hardware does, this will…drum-roll…depend on your specific situation. Bet you wanted to hear something other than ‘it depends’, didn’t you?

Unfortunately, it’s simply the truth. The pros and cons need to be evaluated on a case by case basis.

Passive speakers will require more equipment and be lighter while active speakers can be used as self-contained systems but are generally a lot heavier.

If you are performing alone you can dismiss using a mixer and go for a couple of active speakers, or even just the single speaker. That being said, active speakers have decent functionality for smaller live performances too.

An example of this would be playing in a small coffee shop or a wedding. You can manage to cover such scenarios with a couple of active speakers.

Since some active speakers offer 2 channel inputs, it will allow you to connect a microphone in conjunction with your keyboard, in case you’re a talented singer. Or even just a singer – no judgement here.

Mackie 402 VLZ4 mixer

Mackie 402VLZ4 compact 4-channel mixer

Though an active speaker would suffice, in this situation a portable (external) 4- or 6-channel mixer would be a good option, since you can control the level of both your microphone and the keyboard easily, instead of having to walk back and forth to the speakers to control the audio levels.

Alternatively, if you own an audio interface, you might be able to use it as well. Keep in mind, though, that most audio interfaces need to be connected to a laptop or a smart device, unlike mixers that can operate as standalones.

One thing to keep in mind is that the higher the price of the PA, the better the audio quality and functionality (in most cases, there are some exceptions!).

However, if you are shopping for keyboard amplification then you probably want to stay within the consumer price range. Around $200–800 would be the price to have in mind.

Most PA systems above this price range will provide diminishing returns on audio quality and functionality unless you are planning to do more than just amplifying your keyboard (if you own a live venue and need a PA system for example).

What’s the Difference Between a Keyboard Amp and a PA System?

PA speaker vs keyboard amp

Note: Here we speak about portable PAs that are suitable for keyboard amplification and don’t discuss models that are designed specifically for speaker presentations, shop announcements, etc.

Nowadays you will not find a huge difference in functionality between keyboard amplifiers and portable PAs. Especially when it comes to the higher-powered systems with outputs of over 50 watts. Music shops and stores often advertise the same items in both categories.

One of the main reasons is similar frequency response requirements for both PAs and keyboard amps.

Excluding some very specific models like Leslie cabinets for Hammond organs, frequency responses need to have flat mids, crisp highs and solid lows. Thus, there is no point in setting a PA or an amp category as your selection criteria.

Nevertheless, there are differences caused by different objectives of respective designs.

While keyboard amp design is focused on the keyboardist’s needs and the accurate delivery of a keyboard sound (not necessarily to an audience), a portable PA’s design is focused on a band/small performing group, and the delivery of multiple instrument’s audio to an audience.


Difference in Shapes

PA speakers amp shapes

One of the notable differences is the shape of keyboard amps versus PAs. Keyboard amps are usually wedge-shaped, while PA speakers often have a rectangular shape.

A wedge shape is intended to give musicians the ability to hear themselves on-stage – the speaker(s) can be pointed toward the performer and be used as a way of monitoring the performance.

In conjunction with this, the tapered shape is very handy in delivering sound to an audience too.

For example, let’s consider you as a street musician. You’re busking at a train station and place your amp on the ground.

Keyboard amp portability

To direct the sound waves higher – toward the faces of your audience – would be ideal because it provides a clearer, higher fidelity audio response to your listeners than if the amp is haphazardly directed at their kneecaps (as is so often seen).

A tapered amplifier shape (like a wedge shape) will perform this task, being particularly of use when the amp is not very loud.

The design of PAs has a different feature in how it delivers sound to an audience. PA speakers have a socket for mounting it to a stand. This allows you to rise them up, avoiding sound absorption by the first rows of audience or other obstacles.

PA speaker on a stand

Of course, you can elevate your keyboard amp too, for example on a table, but this method isn’t fool-proof, particularly if you’re performing for a pretty large crowd.

To be sure that the back rows can hear your performance as crisply as the front rows – raising your speaker on a stand will work more effectively.

Some of the powered loudspeakers also have a slightly tapered to the back shape and can be used as PA speakers in a vertical arrangement and as the stage monitors when placed on the longer side. This design is especially popular for low-mid range speakers.

PA speaker as a stage monitor


Difference in Packaging and Convenience

This topic was discussed earlier so will be kept brief. In short: keyboard amplifiers are ‘all-in-one’ units, offering a simpler sound solution for performance than that of a PA. They often have handles and wheels for easy movement.

In contrast, PAs often contain multiple components (passive PAs), increasing the size, fiddling and inconvenience of lugging them around and setting them up.


Differences in Features

PA speaker outdoors performance

The other differences to consider between PAs and keyboard amps is the number of microphone inputs, and the quality of these inputs. Discussed briefly earlier in the article, below we will dive into the theory behind microphone amplification and just how to determine the quality of your amplification’s inputs.

Interestingly, microphone inputs have recently become an industry-standard feature for nearly all keyboard amps with over 20 watts of output. This is possibly an effort by keyboard amp manufacturers to keep up with the wider functionality offered by PA systems in general.

Though the ability to project microphones is now commonplace, with some cheaper amp models, the quality of sound transmission is compromised by the quality of its microphone channel.

unbalanced mic plug

Since the microphone signal is very weak – much weaker than an instrument signal – it needs to be increased (pre-amplified) before a circuit of any device such as amp or mixer can process and reproduce it.

For this purpose, any microphone input has a pre-amplifier (preamp). However, a good preamp is expensive and will substantially increase the cost of an entire amplification unit. To circumvent this, many low-end products save on costs by skimping on ‘less important’ circuitry and hardware components.

One of the common ways manufacturers avoid extra costs is to substitute a balanced input socket with an unbalanced socket. An unbalanced audio signal is more susceptible to external noises caused by electromagnetic interference. As a result, you can easily run into a noisy and distorted signal.

This issue can become more apparent if you are running a microphone cable of over 20 feet (6 meters), which is fairly common practice in live settings.

You can find more information on the difference between balanced and unbalanced types of connections on our “Digital Piano Recording Guide” page.

The louder you need to run your amp, the more noticeable such unwanted noise could become. The further from the amp a singer is located, the more instruments and cables on the stage – the more possibility of a noise problem arising.

At the same time, if you are a solo performer looking to amplify your performance in coffee houses and bars, a keyboard amp in which you can plug into your keyboard and your microphone is more than enough.


Summary

1) For low wattage systems, keyboard amps are faster to set up and easier to operate during performance;

2) In the same power range PAs are usually cheaper than amps (in other words you can get more features and power for the same price);

3) Keyboard amps could be more suitable for smaller venues, for solo performers and for rehearsing situation;

4) PAs could serve well as setups for small bands and groups of musicians and when you are not sure what a common outline for your performance is.

We’ll also briefly introduce studio monitors and Hi-Fi audio systems. These are not keyboard dedicated monitoring systems but they can be a convenient option if you plan to kill two birds with one stone.

Studio Monitors

studio monitors

For many professional musicians their home speaker setup is often their studio monitors. This is because studio monitors can give you a flat (without any additional coloration) sound with a very wide frequency range.

Thus, you get the sound of your instrument portrayed as close to the original as possible.

With the latest sound technologies easily available on the market, it is very simple to set up a home studio for recording sketches, ideas and demos.

And because the sound requirements for both studio monitors and keyboard speakers are very close, it is possible to use the same sound system for both purposes.

Studio monitors can be active – with a built-in amplifier – or passive, where they are powered by a standalone amplifier(s).

Nowadays, more and more musicians use active monitors for their home studios, as they are more compact and cheaper to buy. However, they are also very limited in terms of inputs.

You’ll most likely get one channel per speaker and limited controls for EQ and other types of signal processing.

The controls are not easily accessible, like they might be in a keyboard amplifier, since they are in the back of the monitor and tend to be protected so that the dials don’t move unless intended to.

You can find more information on the different types of studio monitors and choices for them following this link.

Studio monitors are not particularly suitable for performing keyboardists, who are usually searching for something mobile, robust and functional for a live setting.

Because of their smaller size and wattage output level, studio monitors are simply not designed to project sound to an audience.

Instead, they’re aimed at high-fidelity (mostly near-field) monitoring for both amateur and professional engineers/consumers.

HIFI System

Hifi home audio

If you already own a Hi-Fi audio system or plan to buy one then there’s a good chance it offers a stereo quarter-inch input.

These inputs are normally found in the back of the Hi-Fi system’s amp labeled as an ‘Aux’ input (or two Aux inputs – left and right – white and red). This is a great option if you are an audiophile that also wants to play keyboards for an intimate audience.

Most Hi-Fi systems don’t really intend to reproduce sound as close as possible to the source signal (like studio monitors). They tend to enhance and color the sound which can make the experience a lot more enjoyable (boosting and highs the bass for example) to the human ear.

However, the intended use of Hi-Fi systems is music reproduction, not keyboard monitoring or live instrument monitoring, and therefore shouldn’t be your top priority for keyboard amplification.

With that in mind, if you already own one, it can be a fun task to set it up with your keyboard and put on a show for your friends, family or peeved neighbors.

What to Consider When Buying a Keyboard Amplification System?

Now you know the technical details of different keyboard amplification methods, there are a few things you have to consider before diving into a purchase.

Excited? You should be, but don’t press that ‘Add to Basket’ button until you’ve read this next section.

Before jumping into amplification specifics, here are the main features you should keep in mind:

Sound quality

sound quality

A good sounding device will make your playing sessions a lot more enjoyable to you and your listeners. The sound quality will depend on aspects like the size and materials of the speakers, the sound processing options (like EQ), etc.

Use

live performance aplications

What do you specifically want your amplifier for? Home practice, home studio recording, live performance?

The amplifier’s suitability will be determined by how many inputs and extra features you need, as well as how badly you want to keep your neighbors awake at night (ie. the volume of your amp).

While a 20-watt amp is perfect for practice, you’ll need a more powerful system if you plan to play live.

Speakers

speaker quality

Speakers are crucial when it comes to sound fidelity. Their brand, size and quantity are important factors to pay attention to. Do you need high-fidelity reproduction of your keyboard sounds or just an affordable amp to practice?

Portability

speaker portability

It’s easy to try for the biggest, baddest, loudest amp you can find without considering what you actually plan on using the equipment for.

Remember to keep in mind the portability and ease of transport of a particular amplification system. Think about how often you might need to transport it.

Will you keep it at home in a corner or will you have to carry it to different venues several times a week? These considerations will instantly eliminate a number of options and make your decision much easier.

Input/Output options 

Nowadays most audio gear comes with plenty of connectivity options but that can also be a factor in the price. Is it just keyboards you plan to connect to the amp, or will you be singing or maybe playing with a backing track or other musicians?

EQ and FX

speaker effects, EQ, FX

Having equalization options is always beneficial to an amp. You’ll need to shape the sound a bit differently depending on the size of the room, and an equalizer provides you with all sorts of potential tones that can improve the sound coming from your keyboard.

Your keyboard might already include great effects and presets – maybe you are one of those keyboard players that uses a pedalboard, or maybe you have never tried FX in your sound at all.

Whichever player you are, it’s a good idea to consider if you would like to tweak EQ and FX settings through the PA/Amp, instead of solely using the settings available through your keyboard.


All of these will vary depending on your needs. Even though the exact same amp may be effective for practicing at home in the morning as well as a live performance at night, there are specific features that will make each option relevant in different situations.

Contemporary manufacturing and demand for affordable yet high-functionality audio gear has forced there to be options that will provide plenty of flexibility if you want to cover home, live and studio performances in a single shot! Thanks capitalism!

So with all this in mind, it’s time to take a look at some of the best keyboard amplifiers and PA systems.

Best Keyboard Amplifiers

Peavey KB1

Peavey KB1

UK & Europe:
Amazon UK

A very basic keyboard amplifier, perfect for home practice. The KB1 features 20 watts of power and 2 channels with independent volume and dual-band EQ controls.

You’ll need an adapter for other types of connections since it doesn’t have XLR or Aux inputs for microphones or MP3 players.

The 20 watts of power should be enough for home use and even sufficient for practicing with vocalists and acoustic guitars. That being said, this amp may struggle if you are practicing with a band, especially if there’s drums involved.

Peavey KB1 connections

Peavey KB1 top view

The independent EQ for each channel is a nice advantage if you are planning to connect other instruments or practice with a backing track.

Additionally, Peavey is a very reliable manufacturer. You can expect durability and quality from their product builds.

Other bigger models on Peavey’s KB amp series exist, which should give you a good range of options in case the KB1’s power or functionality is insufficient for your requirements.

Overall, this amp should be considered as a practice amp and not a powerhouse designed for street performance or live events.

Pros
  • Decent sound for the price and size
  • Portability (16 lbs)
  • Good for home practice
Cons
  • Limited channels and control
  • No XLR or Aux inputs
  • Generally not powerful enough for live use

Behringer K450FX

Behringer K450FX

UK & Europe:
Amazon UK Thomann

The Behringer K450FX is a monster PA/keyboard amp for the price and flexibility it offers.

This behemoth features 45 watts of power, 3 channels with separate volume options, a master graphic EQ and a number of FX presets to play with. To top it all off, this system even comes with a CD input.

This unit guarantees a high quality of sound thanks to its specially made 10-inch Bugera speaker. Hours of fun are to be had with the K450FX, as its functionality lives up to the last two letters in its model name.

Thanks to its digital 24-bit FX processor that includes 100 FX presets – such as reverbs, delays and modulators, you can say goodbye to sleep as you attempt to harness the creative potential this amplifier provides

Behringer K450FX CONNECTIONS

Behringer K450FX connections

The availability of 3 channels provides plenty of possibilities, particularly since channel one also has an XLR input. This will allow you to connect up to 3 instruments plus a dynamic microphone.

Its 5-band graphic EQ comes with feedback detection technology that will allow you to instantly detect problematic frequencies. The EQ is global, not per channel, so it applies to every connected instrument.

Each channel has its own FX volume send. Even though the FX selected is global, you can control how much of it you want on each channel.

All of this is more than enough for home practice and recording. The creative suite included with this system allows you to be crafting sounds you never thought your setup could produce.

Behringer K450FX top view EQ FX

Behringer K450FX EQ and FX effects

In conjunction with its potential for home use, the K450FX can also be perfect for studio or small live situations since it features a line output, a sub output, and a headphone output.

A 35mm pole socket on the bottom of the speaker will allow you to mount it on a pole to use it as a PA system.

Finally, if all that wasn’t enough, it comes with a CD input. Very handy if you play with backing tracks or any pre-recorded material, or just want to chuck on your favorite Radiohead album at a party.

This amplifier can also be used as a stage monitor while connected to a PA through the line out.

Overall, this PA/keyboard amp is a jack of all trades. It presents itself as the perfect solution for small live gigs, especially if you sing while playing or play with electro-acoustic guitar players.

It’s also a great solution for studio monitoring/recording and definitely a fun option for home practice or recording.

Pros
  • 45-watts – perfect for small live settings, studio or home
  • Bugera 10-inch speaker
  • Plenty of inputs and output options
  • Relatively portable (33 lbs)
  • 100 FX presets
Cons
  • Reported hardware faults
  • Not the best option for bigger live situations

Roland KC-400

Roland KC-400


The Roland ‘C’ series is well known among instrumentalists – with the JC being a staple of the guitar world. Their ‘KC’ series, designed specifically for keyboards, offers a step up in audio quality compared to the previously mentioned products.

This review will be specifically discussing the KC400 since it’s a good middle point in the series, but keep in mind that the price will mostly affect wattage and features the sound quality and build materials are very similar regardless of model expense.

Roland KC-400 angle view

This amp will deliver full-range stereo sound with 150 watts of power and a 2-way speaker system (woofer-tweeter) that will reproduce the wide frequency range of any keyboard instrument, as well as your keyboard’s digital instrument emulations.

It provides 4 stereo channels, an Aux input, a sub and headphone output, a direct line output and a stereo link output. The 4 instrument channels can be used as mono or stereo, which is a great feature for those playing live.

Channel 1 also offers a microphone XLR input.

Roland KC-400 top inputs outputs

The Aux input supports mono and stereo connections and allows you to hook up your MP3 player or virtually any smart device to play back a song or a backing track.

Stereo link jacks come handy when you want to link your amp into another KC amp through the stereo link connection to get a full stereo setup.

The line out is a great addition in case you want to use the amp as a stage monitor and still connect to a PA with a stereo signal.

All in all, the KC400 is a great amp for both home use and live situations. Even though it weighs 48 lbs and is relatively big (W x D x H: 19.3″ x 15.1″ x 18.5″), it comes with wheels on the bottom for easy transportation. You can roll it around like a suitcase!

With that said, if that seems like overkill for your needs, check out the KC-400’s less powerful and more compact brothers, the KC-200 and KC-80.

Pros
  • 150 watts – more than enough for most live and home use
  • Clean, accurate tone reproduction
  • Plenty of inputs and output options
  • Wheels – handy for portability
  • Decent range of models to pick from
Cons
  • Relatively expensive

Best PA Systems

Behringer Europort PPA500BT

Behringer Europort PPA500BT


The Europort PPA500 is a high-quality portable PA system. It’s comprised of 2 passive speakers and a compact 500-watt amp/mixing console. The whole system can be assembled into a single unit that’s easy to carry – it only weighs 44.7 lbs.

The Europort comes with 6 channels, providing plenty of versatility. Channels 3-4 and 5-6 can be used as stereo or individual mono channels.

These channels are: two XLR/Line inputs on channels 1 and 2; Line/RCA inputs for channels 3-6. The Europort also boasts Bluetooth connection for any device like tablets and smartphones, adding an extra level of functionality to an already diverse system.

It features a 5-band master EQ with feedback detection technology as well as individual bass and treble controls for 4 channels (channels 3-4 and 5-6 are controlled as stereo channels).

It also includes more than 100 digital effect presets by Klark Teknik with independent FX send control on the mixer.

The frequency response of the Europort is very good (50-22kHz) and the sound quality is clean. However, it only has 8-inch woofers, so the low end performance will be decent but a separate sub woofer would be needed for bigger, bassier live shows.

Europort PPA500 is a great option for small to medium live gigs and outdoor events due to the Europort’s volume capacity and input versatility.

It’s bundled with the cables needed to connect the speaker to the mixer, as well as XLR and RCA cables.

Overall, the Europort PPA550BT is a fantastic option for its price, boasting exceptional audio quality and an array of features well-suited for the hobbyist or the pro.

Pros
  • Great performance and sound quality
  • Input versatility
  • Easy to carry
  • Easy to set up
  • Great price/value ratio
Cons
  • Small woofers providing a dip in low-end performance
  • Added FX quality isn’t as good as other PA systems

Mackie SRM350 V3

Mackie SRM350 V3


Mackie’s SRM are among the best active speakers that you’ll find at this price range. With 1000-watts of power (peak) and a clean tone, this system is a fantastic choice for both entry-level and experienced keyboardists.

This speaker is perfect for those of you that want a plug and play experience – going without all the fancy connections and controls.

It features 2 mic/line inputs with independent volume control and an RCA connection that shares volume control with channel 2.

Mackie SRM350 V3 connectors back

While the inputs are pretty simple, it also offers other tools, like an application-specific speaker mode that allows you to optimize the speaker for specific uses.

These modes include:

PA mode – full range unaltered reproduction

DJ mode – bumps up the highs and lows, great for music reproduction

Monitor mode – rolls off the low end to optimize the speaker to be used as a stage monitor Solo mode—rolls off the low end and boosts the mid-range a little, perfect for singing and playing.

It also has an automatic feedback destroyer which scans for problematic frequencies. Both the speaker mode and the feedback destroyer are single button interfaces which makes them very easy to set up.

Since it is a fair bit smaller than regular PA speakers, the Mackie SRM350 features fantastic portability, weighing in at only 24 lbs (11 kg).

The SRM’s 10-inch woofer should provide good bass reproduction, however, if you need more power and bass clarity for bigger events there are other products in the SRM series that include the same features but bigger woofers and higher wattage.

Pros
  • Powerful relative to its portability
  • Easy to set up
  • High-definition sound
  • Perfect for small-medium events
Cons
  • Not as powerful as most PA speakers
  • Very limited input capacity

Yamaha DBR15

Yamaha DBR15


The DBR series sits at the lower-end of Yamaha’s speaker range,  but don’t let that fool you.

The DBR series is specifically targeted at people that need a high-quality sounding speaker that is affordable – the quality of a DBR system is comparable to Yamaha’s higher-tier series like DXR.

The reason why it is more affordable than other Yamaha series is the build quality. This speaker is not as rugged as the other professional speakers, as Yamaha employed lighter, less expensive plastic for the body materials.

In conjunction with this, the amplifier is not as powerful (less watts) as its bigger brothers – but there is good news. None of this will directly affect sound quality.

Yamaha DBR15 back connections

800 watts of power, a 15-inch cone and a broad frequency range (50 Hz-20 kHz) should provide enough juice for live use. And the standard pole socket provided on the bottom of the speaker will allow you to mount it for live events.

In terms of channels, you get the standard 2-channel plus RCA inputs. Both channels offer combo XLR/TRS ports with separate volume knobs and channel 2 shares volume controls with the RCA input.

Channel 1 can also be used for connecting a mic (there’s a switch that allows you to choose between line and mic level).

The sound processing options are very simple too. A dynamic-EQ with main, monitor and off options that will allow you to optimize the sound.

The EQ also contains an easy to use high-pass filter to cut off 100-120Hz sounds in case you have a separate subwoofer taking care of the low end.

The DBR15 weighs 53 lbs (24 kg) and is a regular size speaker, so portability isn’t really a selling point of this product.

Pros
  • High-definition sound across a wide frequency range
  • Great bass response thanks to the 15-inch woofer
  • Easy to set up
  • Perfect for small-medium events
Cons
  • Relatively heavy to carry around
  • Poorer build quality than more expensive options

Electro-Voice ZLX-12P

Electro Voice ZLX-12P


This lightweight and compact speaker was designed to deliver power and quality beyond the scope of small-sized speakers, making it one of the best options at this price range.

Electro Voice ZLX-12P back

It delivers a decent frequency range (50 Hz to 20 kHz) with a 12-inch woofer and 1000 watts of power. The bass response will not be the greatest due to the size of the woofer but it should deliver enough bass for small and medium events (~up to 200 people).

There’s a 15-inch version of this speaker that should be beneficial for musicians performing at larger events.

The ZLX-12P offers digital DSP with a selection of preset EQs and FX. The presets include location presets – pole, monitor, and bracket, as well as four audio playback modes: music live (for voice and instrument), speech, and club (stronger bass).

These are all variations of the speaker’s frequency response which should optimize the performance of the system depending on the way it is set up (a pole for example) and its intended use (speech for example).

There are two line/mic inputs and a single output for daisy-chaining the system into a second (or multiple speakers) plus an Aux input (stereo mini 3.5mm).

The ZLX-12P doesn’t offer anything extremely versatile or innovative but meets the industry-standard functionality requirements of contemporary active speakers.

The speaker’s enclosure is made of polypropylene – a strong material which is notably resistant to moisture. This suggests the ZLX-12P is very well-equipped to be used outdoors.

It weighs 33 lbs (15 kg) which is considered lightweight for a speaker, meaning portability isn’t a huge issue with this one.

Overall, the ZLX-12P is a great choice for the small event musician or duo (i.e. small weddings or coffee shops) and allows for speaker/system expansion if necessary.

Pros
  • Built like a tank
  • Accurate sound reproduction
  • Easy to use DSP thanks to the built-in screen
  • Portability
  • Excellent price/value ratio
Cons
  • Limited low-end response
  • No RCA connections

Bose S1 Pro

Bose S1 Pro


The Bose S1 Pro would be considered an ultra-lightweight PA system. Weighing just 13 pounds (6 kg) and featuring a 6-inch woofer and 160 watts of RMS power, the S1 Pro isn’t going to be the speaker that prompts your neighbors to pay you a visit at 3 am.

In spite of its difficulty performing in live spaces other than relatively small events, this product offers wonderful sound quality and can double as a keyboard amp for home practice.

Bose S1 Pro inputs output channels

The mixer has 3 channels – 2 of them have independent analog volume, bass, treble and reverb controls.

Those two channels also offer independent ‘tone match’ controls which is just a fancy way of saying EQ presets that can be set at off, guitar, or voice to optimize the frequency response.

The third channel has a 3.5mm (Aux) input and simple volume controls. This third channel also offers Bluetooth connectivity, which makes it very easy to pair your device and play background music for any number of smaller public or private settings.

While the price may seem steep relative to the size of the speakers, the Bose S1 Pro has several features that make it a strong contender. Bose is pretty well known for its sound quality, and the S1 is no exception to this public perception.

You can run the system on batteries (rechargeable, included with the speaker) for up to 11 hours, something that’s not offered on most PAs and adds an extra layer of flexibility to its functionality.

Bose S1 Pro back

Hey, have you ever seen someone set up a PA system at a beach? The title of ‘first consumer to do that’ could very well be yours.

Overall, the Bose S1 Pro is a great option for home use, traveling musicians, street performers and small events.

Pros
  • Portability
  • Impressive sound for the size
  • Perfect for home and small events
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Up to 11 hours of battery operation
Cons
  • Limited frequency response due to the size
  • A bit expensive compared to larger active speakers

You might also like:

Selecting the Best Audio Interface for Your Home Studio

Selecting the Best Audio Interface for Your Home Studio

How to Record a Digital Piano [Audio & MIDI] – Step-by-Step Guide

How to Record a Digital Piano [Audio & MIDI] – Step-by-Step Guide

Best Portable Digital Pianos Under $2000 (for Advanced Pianists)

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